By Jeff Shaara
Ballantine Books, 492 pp, 2001
Those of you who have read some, most, or
all of my other book reviews know that I rarely gush over a book. There
are many books that I like, a few that I really like, and a few that I
just hate. I really don't hold back much on the stinkers, but I also don't
go on and on about how much I loved a certain book. I don't sing its
praises or get all jubilant about it.
I suppose there's a first time for
everything, because this is that book. What can I say? I absolutely loved
it. It was well-written, riveting, dramatic, sweeping, detailed, even
inspiring. That's right, inspiring.
Jeff Shaara, son of Michael Shaara, who is
best-known for writing the Civil War classic The
Killer Angels, has produced a masterful fictional account of the
prelude to the American Revolution. This is his first attempt at the
Revolutionary War - his first two novels were sequels to The Killer
Angers, which he followed up with Gone
for Soldiers, about the
Mexican-American War. I read The Killer Angels, thought it was
pretty good but not spectacular, but this is my first Jeff Shaara book.
Shaara has not only lived up to his
father's reputation, but surpassed it. This book is thoroughly researched
and it shows. There's not a whole lot of battle scenes, since it begins
with the Boston Massacre in 1770 and ends with the British Army's arrival
in New York in 1776, five days after the Declaration of Independence has
been declared. But it's exciting and well-paced all the same.
Shaara tells the story through four main
characters: John Adams, Ben Franklin, General Gage, and George Washington.
Washington doesn't appear until the middle, but dominates the last several
chapters. The American view is presented mainly through Adams and
Franklin. Adams is in Boston and witnesses all the tumult and chaos there
- the Boston Massacre (which is badly named), Boston Tea Party, and the
blockade. Franklin spends much of the book in London, reacting to events
and doing his best to press the colonists' cause. Despite his fame, he
also takes much abuse from several members of Parliament and the British
General Gage, a tragic and hapless figure,
represents the British point view in his capacities as commander of all
British troops in America and later royal governor of Massachusetts. The
poor British just didn't understand what was going on. They couldn't
figure out why the colonists were so ticked off about taxes. After all,
they demanded British protection from Indians and each other - was it
asking so much to make them pay for it? They dismissed claptrap about no
taxation without representation, because they taxed all other colonies the
same, so the Americans should just accept it. They weren't really British
citizens anyway - they were colonists, to them an important distinction.
More than that, they were an unruly and violent mob, terrorizing British
loyalists and wreaking economic havoc on the crown. This was unacceptable.
The only way to deal with such rabble is to punish them, let them know who
is in charge, and persuade them that all resistance is futile.
Problem is, each time the British tried to
punish, the colonists got more ticked, and it was a vicious and escalating
Folks, this book confirms my belief that
the American Revolution and founding were the greatest times in our
history, and the people who led us in war and peace were the true greatest
generation. Shaara's account of the reading of the Declaration at the
Continental Congress and to the troops gathered in New York is
awe-inspiring, and you get an idea of how exciting and important such
So, if you want a deeper understanding of
the Revolution and the reasons behind it, and just want to read a great
book, pick this up. It takes some time, but it's worth it. The best thing:
Shaara plans to write a sequel. Can't wait!